North Korea’s Sunghori Cement Factory facing shutdown

Satellite imagery of Sunghori Cement Factory
Satellite imagery of Sunghori Cement Factory. Image: Google Earth

North Korea’s chronic electricity shortages have led to the shutdown of the Sunghori Cement Factory located just outside Pyongyang.

“The factory has not been operational for the past three months due to a lack of electricity,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK. “The factory’s workers are now just working on [nearby] farms.”

The cement factory was once part of North Korea’s most important infrastructure and its shutdown has led to suggestions that the country’s electricity woes have become extremely serious.

Electricity is reportedly being supplied to factories in the central areas of Pyongyang and important factories near the city, but has been cut to other parts of the region around the capital, the source said.

The Sunghori Cement Factory is located in the Sunghori district on the outskirts of Pyongyang. The factory may have stopped receiving electricity due to its relatively isolated location.

“The Sunghori district is part of Pyongyang but is also close to South Pyongan and North Hwanghae provinces. This means that the area is not officially considered part of the capital area,” the source said. “The area’s only claim to fame is the cement factory. Otherwise, it wouldn’t even be considered part of Pyongyang.”

“The factory was built in 1919, so its equipment is dilapidated and it never produced that much cement,” the source added, also noting that the factory was overshadowed in the 1990s by the construction of the Sangwon Cement Factory, which is also located near Pyongyang.

The Sunghori Cement Factory uses the “wet-type” method to counter the heat produced during the cement production process. This method uses a great deal of energy and is considered outdated due to the exorbitant energy requirements and lack of automation. Modern factories use the more efficient “dry-type” method to produce cement.

The authorities may have simply “pulled the plug” on the factory due to its failure to effectively produce cement, rather than the lack of electricity being the cause of its shutdown.

Sangwon Cement Complex
Sangwon Cement Complex. Image: Rodong Sinmun

The Sangwon Cement Complex was built in cooperation with the French cement company Lafarge SA. The factory boasts its own thermal energy plant, new production equipment, an automated production process, and other technologically advanced features that have enabled it to boost production.

According to data on North Korea’s cement industry released by the Korea Cement Association in 2011, the Sunghori Cement Factory produced 95,000 tons of cement in 2009, while the Sangwon Cement Complex was capable of producing 200,000 tons. North Korea does not release statistics on how much cement it produces. The existing data showing that the Sangwon complex could produce more than double that of the Sunghori factory, however, suggests that the gap in production between the two factories has widened over the years.

North Korea’s Party daily Rodong Sinmun reported in May that Kim Jong Il is the “honorable head manager” of the Sangwon Cement Complex and that “[the facilities] are a preeminent production site replete with a splendid army of labor readily supporting the Party’s ambitious construction plans.”

A North Korean defector living in South Korea told Daily NK that “the Sangwon complex produces so much that the Sunghori factory just can’t keep up anymore.” The defector also noted that North Korean officials are likely discussing whether to completely shut it down given the lack of interest in the facility.

The Sunghori factory’s woes, however, have led to economic difficulties for those living near the site, according to a separate source in Pyongyang.

“Most people living in the Sunghori district are employees of the factory, so its future will affect them the most,” he said. “Some locals are saying that the government should just tear the factory down so that they can work somewhere else.”

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